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IFS probes tax fairness

printer Mail

A research experiment carried out by the IFS has found that providing people with just a small amount of information in the form of some (true) statistics radically altered their views on the fairness of the UK tax system.

Three groups were asked the question: ‘Broadly, do you think the UK tax system is fair?’

One group was given just the question, with no additional information. Another group was given two simple statistics indicating that the richest pay a high proportion of all income tax; and the third group received statistics highlighting inequalities in income distribution. The proportion of respondents saying the tax system was unfair came out at: 

  • 51% of those given no other information;
  • 33% in the group told that four in 10 adults now pay no income tax and the top 10% of income taxpayers pay 60% of all income tax; and
  • 72% in the group told that the richest 10% earn more than the bottom 50% and someone earning £45,000 faces the same income tax on each extra £1 as someone earning £145,000.

The results showed about a fifth of people changed their answers when presented with just two statistics. Comparing the second and third groups, a small amount of information led to a doubling of the proportion of people who thought the system unfair.

‘These effects matter,’ said Helen Miller, associate director at the IFS. ‘If we are to have a successful debate about what a fair tax system looks like, or indeed about any other important issue in our society, we need to start with well-formed questions that are that are supported by the best available evidence.’ See